KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly on Wednesday passed the Rs1.217 trillion deficit-free budget for the financial year 2019-20 as the house decided to present the finance bill stuffed with various taxes on Thursday (today).
The budget was passed after a thorough discussion by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. The debate lasted for a week in which more than 120, out of 168, members of the house participated.
The treasury benches appreciated the provincial government for preparing a “pro-people” budget when the entire country was experiencing financial hardships.
The treasury rejects all 543 cut motions moved by the opposition
Opposition members criticised the budget for offering little focus on development.
The budget was passed after the house approved 159 demands for grants totalling Rs1.186tr and rejecting all 543 cut motions moved by the opposition members.
The budget allocates for a 15 per cent increase in the salaries and pension of serving and retired government employees, respectively. It also fixes Rs17,000 as the minimum wage in Sindh.
According to the budget document, which was presented by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, pensioners in Sindh would receive their monthly payments directly in their bank accounts.
The budget unveils the Peoples Promise Programme, a programme for poverty reduction as pledged by the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party’s chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in his election campaign.
As it was largely featured in the last budget, first priority in terms of budgetary allocations has been given to education followed by health and law and order.
The chief minister repeatedly said the federal government had revised federal transfers from estimates of Rs665.085 billion to Rs631.543bn.
He said so far Sindh had received only Rs505bn on account of federal transfers and Islamabad still had to pay Rs126bn more to the province.
Revised revenue targets
The revenue targets of the province have been revised from Rs243.082bn to Rs240.746bn. As a result, against an estimated budgetary amount of Rs1.123tr, the revised receipts for current fiscal year stand at Rs963.699bn.
The provincial government, as stated by the chief minister, had to cut down its development expenditure which now stands at Rs172.941bn for current financial year.
The provincial government had presented the estimated allocation for the annual development programme for fiscal year 2018-19 as Rs343.91bn, which was 17.4pc more than the ADP it has put together for the next fiscal.
However, the provincial government revised the estimated ADP for the current fiscal year to Rs172.94bn citing reduced federal transfers. As compared to the revised ADP for current year, the estimated ADP for the next fiscal year is 64pc higher.
Similarly, on the current revenue side estimates have been revised from Rs773.237bn to Rs751.751bn. The reduction on the current revenue side is primarily because of the “severe austerity measures and strict financial discipline”.
During fiscal year 2018-19, the Sindh government had to cut down on operating expenses. The repair and maintenance budget of the departments had been substantially reduced from Rs27bn to Rs11bn. Also, the fourth quarter of the budget under operating expenses had been partially released.
Budget estimates 2019-20
The total receipts of the province for the financial year 2019-20 are estimated at Rs1.217tr against an estimated expenditure of Rs1.217tr.
The province is expected to receive Rs835.375bn in the head of federal transfers. Receipts from the federal government will account for 74.3pc of the total receipts.
The chief minister said during his concluding speech a day earlier that his government had adapted the figures communicated to it by the federal government. However, Islamabad’s failure to achieve its targets would create financial problems for the provincial government in the next financial year.
Mr Shah said the government’s austerity policy would continue in the next fiscal year as it had introduced major cuts in operating expenses.
During the current financial year, Rs4.2bn is being disbursed as cash transfer amongst chronically poor who had been identified by the Benazir Income Support Programme. A similar amount would be disbursed in the next fiscal year.
The government has planned for a marble city to be spread over 300 acres along Northern Bypass in Karachi. In addition to special economic zones and urban development, the government has conducted the Karachi Diagnostic Study.
Mr Shah earlier said the government had signed big investments worth $1.5bn (Rs226bn) over a period of five years with international development partners for high-priority sectors.
Centre’s help sought against locust attack
Earlier, Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani called upon the federal government to help the provincial government to safeguard Sindh’s agriculture from the locusts that had devastatingly attacked farms and fields.
“This catastrophe has entered Sindh from Balochistan and it is the responsibility of the federal government to help provinces out of this.
“This is not a political issue. It is a catastrophe that is affecting the poor farmers and peasants,” he said.
CM Shah said his government would do everything possible to save Sindh’s agriculture.
Agriculture Minister Ismail Rahu said after attacking Iran and Balochistan, locusts had hit Khairpur, Sanghar and other districts of Sindh.
He said the agriculture department had sent plant protection teams to the affected regions. “We have also contacted Suparco for assistance including sprays on those areas.”
He said Suparco had only one “working plane”, which was at present being used in Balochistan.
PPP’s Nadir Magsi said a single plane was not enough to respond to such a huge attack.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2019